Ohhh man, I loved that. The Knicks and Celtics met with similar personnel earlier this week, and the Knicks took that one by brute force, wrasslin' for possession to make up for their poor shooting. This time around, no such wrasslin' was necessary. From tip to buzzer, the Knicks picked-and-rolled, spread the touches around, and drenched the Celtics in threes--open ones, contested ones, 49-foot buzzer-beating ones, and so on. On the other end, the Knicks proved susceptible to Jeff Green drives, but kept pretty much everything else in check. The transition defense was prompt, the rotations were timely enough to force jumpers, and anyone (but Green) who drove got a Kenyon Martin forearm to the tooth.
The Knicks dominated. They built a huge lead in the first half, then-- and this is crucial, given recent Knicks-Celtics history-- held onto it in the third quarter despite losing Carmelo Anthony to a fourth foul just four minutes into the period. A very small lineup of Martin 'n' The Guards (though not the smallest. More on that below) didn't exactly flow, but got some huge shots from Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith to keep the lead taut and ensure a silly fourth quarter.
'Twas a team performance. Individual notes and some other things:
- Melo came into the game forcing things a bit and frazzled by a lack of calls. He steadied himself after the first few minutes, though, cutting and sealing off the ball to drop some very quick looks off the catch. Eventually the calls started to come, and had some of those point-blank tip-ins not squiggled out of the rim, he'd have been well above 9-19. The best news: Melo only had to play 27 minutes because the Knicks held their own after his fourth foul.
- Pablo Prigioni's offensive game was quiet but typically generous (five assists). His defense in 33 minutes continued to impress. He spent pretty much zero time guarding people his own size, yet continued to coerce bigger guys into difficult shots away from the basket. One random nitpick: The Knicks make the occasional mistake of doubling a ball-handler too late, when he's already had a chance to turn and survey the court and Pablo (to my eye) is a serial offender in that department.
- Kenyon Martin played just 23 minutes. He was sidelined intermittently by a strained abdominal muscle (Clyde: "Who needs a six-pack?"), but everyone says he's fine. Martin played nice help defense and got to the rim and/or line on a couple pick-and-rolls, but his main contribution was attempting to dismember anyone who came near the rim. Martin's first foul was a cheap little bump on a Green and-one, so he made sure the other three were good 'n' violent.
- Martin air-balled a free throw. He's not good at those. Maybe that's why he fouls so much. He wants others to share his struggle.
- Iman Shumpert broke his streak of exploding in first quarters, spreading his 3-3 shooting out over the whole game. He made a couple sharp extra passes, too. Aside from one magnificent besnaggling of a Paul Pierce dribble-drive, his one-on-one defensive positioning wasn't great. Both Pierce and Green shook him off the dribble pretty regularly. Shump also played center in this game.
- Oh, let's discuss that. We've seen plenty of small lineups since Tyson Chandler went down, but tonight was the apex of small-ball. If we note that Martin played just 23 minutes and Marcus Camby played zero and agree that Melo isn't a "true" power forward, the Knicks played 25 full minutes without a genuine big man out there. We saw three-guard lineups, four-guard lineups, and-- for the 90 seconds or so toward the end of the first half-- a FIVE-GUARD LINEUP. Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert all shared the floor late in the second. That is the shortest possible lineup Mike Woodson can play without turning to an olive or a child from the audience. No, really, look at the Knicks roster. You cannot assemble a shorter five-man unit. By my count, that lineup was a +3 in 1:34. WOODY DID IT.
- Raymond Felton played another quietly terrific game, at least on offense (and even beyond the 49-footer). His jumpers fell all night, including a bunch of long twos and threes off hand-offs and kick-outs. Like I mentioned earlier, Felton's offense was particularly instrumental in the third. With the spacing and ball movement dwindling, Ray threw a gorgeous entry pass to a Martin and-one, then turned two catches off ball reversal into a baseline floater and-one (Avery Bradley's fifth foul) and a massive right elbow three.
- J.R. Smith also contributed to that third-quarter stand by isolating against Paul Pierce on the left side for a drawn foul and a tough righty lay-in. I thought Smith, like Melo, entered the game forcing a bit, but even some precarious attempts in traffic, he managed to bait the Celtics into giving him ten free-throw attempts. Like Melo's, I think Smith's 4-12 line (his first sub-50% shooting game in a little while) fails to capture a couple lovely runners that just caught a bad bounce. He didn't have a huge scoring night, but stayed just aggressive as he has been. 12 rebounds and four assists, too. Good J.R. through and through.
- Chris Copeland, eh? Cope joined the fun in the second quarter with a couple quick catch-and-shoot threes up top, then pitched in to the Knicks' lead-holding effort with some finishes around the basket, including a couple tip-ins. He, like, almost actually filled the center role that got assigned to him by default.
- Jason Kidd's refusal to attempt an open three and thirst for fancy passes busted a few possessions, but as always, he justified his minutes with some smart help defense and effort on the boards.
- Steve Novak rushed a couple, but also drained some lovely long jumpers (2-3 from downtown) popping out off down-screens or off Melo cross-court feeds from the far post.
- Technically speaking, James White participated in this basketball game.
So, the Knicks took their season series against the Celtics by a final tally of 3-1. Those last two victories came in the last week. The first one was hard-fought and ugly. This one was a delightful holiday treat, like Tomahawk Stomp said in the comments. Crack your Easter egg open and-- look at that, a three-pointer! Where's the afikoman? Is it behind the three-point line? Yes. Yes it is. Holidays. Three-pointers. Eight straight wins. Very close to locking up the Atlantic. Emmy Rossum. "Boston sucks" chants. Good things. Happy.